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07-30-2011, 11:49 AM
Change is good.
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This team is in phenomenal shape cap-wise going forward - for a minimum of three years. 5 of our top 6 forwards, 3 of our bottom 6 forwards, ALL of defensive core and our #1 goalie are all under contract or are RFAs through that period. And that doesn't count kids coming up through the system who could slot into the remaining spots (nor does it give effect to the status of Wolski or MZA, who are also RFAs, but whom I believe will not be back at their QOs). The only issue of any significance during that period is acquiring a top 6 LW. That's it. (And again, that's assuming that none of the kids in the pipeline, Wolski or MZA steps up to fill the role.) I don't think I've ever seen such stability and rational distribution of payroll (on the Rangers, anyway) since the advent of the salary cap.

I did this in the Callahan thread on a back-of-the-envelope basis, but here's a more detailed analysis of the team's cap situation and options to improve going forward as I see it:

In 2012 you've got 1 top 6 forward, 3 bottom 6 forwards, 1 3rd pair defenseman and a backup goalie to replace. According to CapGeek, you've got a minimum of $15MM to do it with. I'm not giving effect to A) any increase in the cap due to revenues or B) effects of the new CBA, which could include possible forgiveness of Drury's $1.667MM buyout penalty, salary roll-backs and of course a decrease in the cap. (Honestly, regardless of the exact changes to the cap, I expect the team's available space on a relative basis to be about the same and possibly better.) So we start with...

Cap space remaining: $15.04MM

Let's start from the back and move forward. For the backup goalie, there's no way you should be paying more than $1MM. In fact, if you look around the league you can get a perfectly serviceable backup for $600-800K. Heck, there are still some name-brand netminders like Nabokov, Gerber, Turco and others who are without jobs right now. But let's assume the Rangers want a quality guy to back up Hank - potentially Biron again, at a raise. So...

Backup goalie: $1MM
Cap space remaining: $14.04MM

As to defensemen, unless things go very wrong (or at least completely off script), the team is looking at a bottom pair of Erixon plus one of Del Zotto or Valentenko, with an outside shot of Kundratek. If it's Kundratek, he's locked in for another year, so you'd actually only have to pay him a little over $800K. But let's say it's either MDZ or VTank who takes over and wins the 6th slot next year.

This past year, we saw 2 RFAs sign their second contract with the Rangers, Sauer at 2 years for $1.25MM and Anisimov for 2 years at $1.875MM. The year before that, we saw Dubinsky sign for 2 years at $1.85MM. Note that Sauer played his previous year in the AHL, whereas both Dubi and AA had played their previous years in the NHL. So, given the importance of Dubi and AA going into their second contracts, and given that whoever gets the 6th defenseman's spot will be a player that spent 2010-2011 in the minors, I think it's safe to say that even if the kid steps up and becomes an absolute stud, there's no way he's getting more than $1.75MM in AAV on his contract (it'd likely be less, but let's be conservative). So...

6th Defenseman: $1.75MM
Cap space remaining: $12.29MM

This brings us on to the forwards, beginning with the lower lines. With Torts, you never know who's going to play where, but we do know that the players to be replaced/re-signed are three of Avery, MZA, Feds, Christensen and Prust. Personally, I think that Avery, Feds and Christensen are goners - at this point they're placeholders to keep seats warm until the kids in the pipeline step up. That leaves MZA and Prust to potentially be retained, plus one spot to be filled from outside the current group. In my opinion, there's very little chance that MZA is retained at his QO, which I believe would be just shy of $2MM. (If he is, it's great news, because it means he really stepped up this year and likely proved himself worthy of a top 6, rather than bottom 6 role.)

My guess is therefore that of all of the above, only Prust is brought back. Now, I absolutely love his game and want him on this team as much as any of you. But when it comes to projecting his cap hit, let's be honest - he is a 4th line energy guy and there's a ceiling to how much you should pay for that. Right now he's making $800K. Let's say he gets a healthy raise of 50% to $1.2MM.

That leaves two bottom 6 spots. I fully expect a kid to step up and take at least one, if not both of them going into next season. My guess is that you're talking about Hagelin ($875K AAV) and Thomas ($1MM AAV). It could also very easily be Kreider, who would be more expensive if you look at the contracts of the players drafted around him and what they gave Erixon, but I think there's a decent shot that they may want him to at least start out in the AHL to get his feet wet in pro hockey, like they did with McDonagh. It's also possible that something out of the blue happens like JT Miller arriving early or Tommy Grant stepping up or, alternatively, we see less progression than we had hoped, only one kid makes it, and the team signs a journeyman to a one year deal like they did with Feds this year. In any of these situations, you're talking about variations of less than a million in either direction. For my purposes, I'm going to go with what I think is the most likely scenario which, as I said, is Hagelin and Thomas to break camp in 2012-2013. So...

3 Bottom 6 forwards (total): $3.075MM
Cap space remaining: $9.215MM

Now, let's say you want to again carry a 7th defenseman. There's no way you should pay (much) more than we're paying Eminger this year. And you always want to maintain at least $500K in flexibility for in-season call-ups and the like. Let's show a little extra generosity to Eminger for being loyal and perhaps stow away a little above the standard $500K since Kreider could be a more expensive call-up. So...

Odds and ends: $1.515MM
Cap space remaining: $7.7MM

That's everything taken care of (potentially through 2014) and $7.7MM to fill the remaining LW spot. If the team's relative cap position stays the same (due to some combination of revenue increase in 2011-2012 plus any negotiated decrease of the cap and/or salary roll-backs in the new CBA), but you simply get Drury's contract off the books when the new agreement kicks in, that goes up to $9.367MM. Obviously, if the cap goes up for any reason, that's gravy on top.

Net result? The Rangers are ABSOLUTELY in play for Parise (or Semin or any other UFA, but I think Parise would be the target). Alternatively, they could fill that top 6 LW with a less expensive player (say, for example, Kreider at around $1.75MM) and the remaining space could be used to upgrade elsewhere (e.g. trade Girardi, MDZ/Valentenko, Miller and a 1st for Doughty, promote whichever of Valentenko/MDZ remains and pay Doughty the $7MM+ AAV deal he wants).

I LOVE where this team is right now.

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